In cast of characters, Bell can stabilize Marlins
Enticed by fresh start in Miami, closer brings competitive spirit
JUPITER, Fla. -- The new and distinctly improved Miami Marlins indisputably have an impressive array of talent.
You never know in February what kind of team will be shaped out of that talent. But the talent is significant enough here that new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said of his club:
"If I don't [mess] it up, we'll be fine. I always say when the team doesn't make the manager makes moves, they'll be OK. Because the manager makes moves when there is something wrong on the field."
There was talent on hand last season, even while the Marlins -- the Florida Marlins at the time -- were finishing 30 games behind the Phillies in the National League East. But the Marlins, moving into a new ballpark this year, hit the free-agent market hard, investing $191 million in new contracts and landing some of the game's leading performers.
There is shortstop Jose Reyes, who, when healthy, is as exciting as any player in the game. There is the veteran lefty, Mark Buehrle, who has an admirable record of consistent performance over 11 seasons. And there is closer Heath Bell, who put together three truly superior seasons for the Padres, registering 132 saves in 146 save opportunities.
All of the Marlins' moves were important, but Bell could really stabilize the bullpen situation. Guillen, managing in the American League for the White Sox, didn't see much of Bell's work, but he knows exactly what he's getting in his new closer.
"I don't need to see [him] -- the numbers are there," Guillen said. "A good closer makes you a good manager. A good closer makes you the smartest man. You know how important a closer is when you don't have one."
Bell will fit in very well. He has character, and he is a character. He had options in his choice of new employment, but he liked the Marlins because he wanted to be on the ground floor of something new and because he, too, saw all the talent.
"The talent pool here is unbelievable," Bell said Tuesday in the home clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium. "You have a lot of talented guys who have been around for a long time who still have something left. You have young guys just coming into their prime. And you've got idiots like me, in a midlife-crisis prime.
"No, it's really cool looking around the locker room seeing all that talent that we have. Pitching with finesse, pitching with power. Crafty guys, overpowering guys. It's amazing. It's fun."
Bell, came up with the Mets' organization, but rose to prominence in five seasons in San Diego, eventually succeeding one of the game's greats, Trevor Hoffman, as closer. The newness of the Miami situation appealed to Bell.
"That was one of the reasons that I came here," Bell said. "It wasn't just the Florida Marlins, it was a new franchise, a new stadium, a new look, a new city. I came over here and there were old [Mets] teammates and some of my Padres boys, too. It was one of those things where it was brand new, but I had a lot of old friends here, too.
"I had options, but the thing is, the Marlins came after me right away. It was pretty cool. [Marlins owner] Jeffrey [Loria] came after me right away. I told my wife: 'They've really got the numbers. We might be going back to Florida.' Just two years earlier, we had moved from Florida to San Diego. My wife's like: 'We're going back?' And I'm like: 'I'm getting some good, strong vibes from the Marlins.'
"The reason I signed here was that I saw so much love and so much interest from the Marlins for me. And everything else is brand new. It's just like a brand new franchise. I wanted to go somewhere where I could build something. I didn't just want to go and be a hired hand for a year or two. I wanted to go and build something, help some young guys and build a legacy."
Bell's deal with the Marlins is $27 million over three years, with a vesting option for a fourth season. He did not come cheaply, but his record over the last three years supports his acquisition. In 2010, when he was 47 of 50 in save opportunities and had an ERA of 1.93, he was named as the Major League's Delivery Man of the Year.
Guillen has described Bell as "a character," which means a lot coming from Ozzie. What does that mean to Bell?
"I'm an idiot," Bell responded, with a sigh. "I'm like Ozzie, but as a player. I'll tell you like it is. I'm just a big kid. But then again, when I'm on the mound, I'm probably more serious than a lot of guys. But when I'm not doing my craft, I'm having as much fun as possible, because we're playing a kids' game."
The Marlins have more than their fair share of characters, but over the season, that could be a plus. In Bell's case, his sense of humor is more than a little useful, but his reputation as a competitor and his record of consistent effectiveness very appealing to his new employers.
And with all this talent on hand, what would be surprising to Bell about this club? It would be surprising to him if the Marlins didn't contend for a postseason berth.
"Yeah, big time," Bell said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we had a bad month and still got there. But I don't think we're going to have a bad month. I see a lot of fighters in here; a lot of fighters, a lot of heart in this locker room."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.